KNOXVILLE - Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes has had a player like Grant Williams before.
In more ways than one.
"P.J. Tucker," Barnes said Monday when asked if had a comparison to Williams in his many years of coaching. "They were both fat when they got to college."
Tucker arrived at Texas in 2003 as an undersized (in height) forward who, like Williams with the Volunteers, made an immediate impact on the Longhorns program, averaging 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds a gaame. He became a second-round NBA draft pick and spent time in the NBA Developmental League as well as overseas before returning in 2012 to the NBA, where he has spent time with the Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and currently the Houston Rockets.
"They both had to work hard to lose weight, and they both have big hands, (are) strong, aren't afraid to compete, and both are workers," Barnes added. "I've watched P.J., today, play on TV, and I love watching him play. I love when I see the NBA highlights of LeBron (James) and Kevin Durant, and the guy always guarding those guys is P.J. Tucker.
"In college, you wouldn't have thought that other than when we had to put him on somebody, he would do that guy, because in college he was a scorer, very much like Grant is, close to the basket. He kept continuing to work, and Grant is a better perimeter shooter right now than P.J. was coming out of college, but P.J., at this point in time, was a better defensive player. That's where Grant's got to continue to work to get better, and there's no doubt in my mind that he will."
The top-ranked Vols (20-1, 7-0 SEC), who remained atop the polls for the third consecutive week, host Missouri (11-9, 2-6) Tuesday night in the first of three consecutive games at home. Tipoff is at 9.
Barnes has mentioned on multiple occasions that Williams arrived in Knoxville "out of shape," but the 6-foot-7, 236-pound junior has turned into one of the best players in the country - and one of the most efficient.
While his teammates have had flashier moments, last year's Southeastern Conference player of the year has improved all of his averages this season. His scoring has gone up from 15.2 points per game to 20.4, his rebounds from 6.0 to 7.5, his assists from 1.9 to 3.4. He's shooting 62 percent from the field after being just below 50 percent last year, while also shooting 83 percent from the free-throw line after making 76 percent of his attempts last season.
Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ratings - an advanced measurement created by former ESPN employee John Hollinger to determine the most effective players in a game in terms of per-minute productivity - has Williams as the fifth-most efficient player in college basketball at 33.3. (For context, Duke's Zion Williamson is first at 43.5.)
In league games, Williams leads the SEC in scoring (21.1) and is fourth in field-goal shooting (57 percent) and in free-throw accuracy (89 percent). He had a 43-point game against Vanderbilt in which he shot - and made - 23 free throws. After three double-digit rebounding performances last season, he already has five this year.
After never having more than four assists in a game last season, he has six games with at least five helpers this year.
"He understands how important it is to fight for position and get the ball," Barnes said. "He understands our offense as much as anybody that we've coached, and he understands what we're going to do at times. He's not perfect: He strays a little bit from it sometimes, and I think he knows, defensively, he's got to be more efficient there. He likes to pass the ball.
"He's worked hard to expand his game. He's a capable 3-point shooter, and I've told him he just has to pick his spots when he does that. If I were playing against him, I'd like for him to stay out there. I wouldn't want him coming within 15 feet of the basket; he's very effective there. He's got big hands, and he's strong - much stronger than people think when they play against him. They look at him and they know he's strong, but I think he's probably stronger as a player than you might think when you see him.
"He's worked, and the fact is, what I do know about Grant is that he will continue to work. He is one that can look at himself and can take coaching, and you can get on him because it's not going to affect him. He does want to be better, and he knows he has to be better."
SEC honors Bone
Tennessee guard Jordan Bone was honored Monday by being named SEC co-player of the week with Kentucky forward P.J. Washington.
Bone averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 assists while making seven of nine 3-point attemps in the Vols' road wins at South Carolina and Texas A&M. He had 19 total assists to only five turnovers in the two games. He had 18 points and 10 assists at A&M, where he hit all seven of his shots, including four 3s.
Bone is the third Vol to be a 2018-19 player of the week, following Williams and Admiral Schofield twice each.
Contact Gene Henley at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.